HARRISBURG — A bipartisan Senate budget plan that would restore cuts to state-supported universities, public schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and social services cleared committee and is on track for full Senate passage Wednesday.
Its fate after that is less clear.
The $27.7 billion spending plan, which increases spending by $500 million over Gov. Corbett's proposed budget, won rare unanimous approval in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The Senate plan also restores $245 million of the $253 million that was sliced from funding for the 18 schools in the State System of Higher Education, said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre).
A spokesman for the state system chancellor, John Cavanaugh, said he had no immediate comment.
Senate Republicans said the program restorations were made possible by the state's higher-than-anticipated revenues in the last two months. Still, the plan appears to be on a collision course with the Corbett administration, which quickly condemned it Monday as "unsustainable" given mandated increases in pensions, public welfare, and corrections.
Corbett, speaking to reporters briefly after an event in Harrisburg on Tuesday, said he had not yet read the plan and would have no comment on the Senate's changes to his proposed $27.1 billion budget.
The Senate's plan includes the Corbett-proposed $275 million in tax reductions for businesses. And it would restore tens of millions in basic education funding, including $50 million for distressed schools and another $50 million for Accountability Block Grants that help pay for early childhood education. Under the state formula, $11 million of the block grant money would go to Philadelphia schools.
Efforts by Democrats to put in another $250 million for social services, child-care services, and a temporary cash assistance program for poor and disabled adults failed.
Leaders of the GOP-controlled state House expressed general support for the plan's priorities — especially in education funding and county-based mental health services — but said they wanted to withhold judgment until an economic analysis is done. "We are in general agreement if there are sustainable revenues," said House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin.
Senate Democrats said they would fight to get $150 million put back in to fund the cash assistance grants, primarily used by people awaiting a determination for federal Social Security disability benefits which can take 18 months.
The Pennsylvania State School Boards Association praised the Senate plan, saying in a statement, "We realize that there are still many steps in the process before a state budget is final and we encourage legislators to keep these additions and consider other restoration of public education funding."
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